Bad Copy

We Are the Union
Show Review

We Are the Union, The Code, Dollar Signs, & Still Alive in Chicago, IL

Photo: Kendra Sheetz

I always appreciated the imagery of the poetry of T.S. Eliot. “The Waste Land” is a particular favorite. Until recently, the idea of April being the cruelest month was nothing more to me than an apt metaphor for depression in spring time. Then, a bunch of people I care about died and things just kept feeling shitty.

A few weeks prior, I got a notification about an upcoming show featuring The Code. I was a tad confused because it had been well over a decade since that’s happened. Thanks to the age of information we live in, it took about five minutes to confirm this was indeed the same Code I never got to see growing up thanks to their tendency to play on school nights. Fifteen years later and you better believe I was determined not to let any amount of unfinished Pre-Calc homework keep me from finally crossing these Pittsburgh punks of my list. Add in local favorites Still Alive, the beautiful humans that are Dollar Signs, and something new to check out in We Are the Union, and you amount to the exact recipe for dragging my sad ass out the door to be around people again.

There aren’t too many bands around Chicago as prolific as Still Alive. Lately, they seem to be on the bill of  every show Kendra and I go to and are definitely one of my favorite parts. Bands that mixed Ska, Punk, and Hardcore were my jam in high school; think Suicide Machines, Choking Victim, and most of the A-F Records lineup. Still Alive is the perfect embodiment of what all of those bands would sound like if they were still actively writing. That suited me just fine because surrendering to nostalgia was one of the primary reasons I was at tonight’s show. Lately, Still Alive has been putting a song into their set featuring Gillian (Hi-Ho & Turnspit). It’s a real ripper and keeps leaving me wanting more angry Gillian vocals every time I hear it. Something tells me it won’t be long before we’ll be graced with their presence again.

Even though Dollar Signs just played Cobra Lounge a few weeks prior, the recent slew of bad news coming my way only amplified my desire to see them again. Honestly, they could play every week and that would suit me just fine. Kendra and I talked about it and we both agreed that ugly crying while watching our friends in Dollar Signs was just what the doctor ordered. And it wasn’t long before the tears started flowing.

No matter how many times I hear “Shallow Pop Songs,” I get a little choked up. Getting to sing one of my favorite new songs back to the band as loud as I possibly can has been a wonderful catharsis as of late. It’s always a party with Dollar Signs and the blend of older and newer material was resonating quite well with the crowd. They have this amazing ability to be able to play on any line up and manage to have people who  are hearing them for the first time singing along by the end. The way they continually radiate positivity onstage as if every show they are currently playing is the best time they are having since the last one is one of many reasons Dollar Signs remain a must see whenever they come to Chicago.

Nostalgia tours are nothing novel in 2019. I made peace some time ago with the idea that there were some bands that I missed and was never going to see. Now, it’s pretty clear that it’s simply a matter of playing the waiting game. I have an ever dwindling short list of bands I’m waiting to come back and it took another hit as The Code returned for a long over due trip to Chicago. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but any concerns were quickly allayed as the band stormed onto the stage.

The second A-F Records sampler was pivotal to my musical development at the time. I was the kid who would listen along and check off every CD my allowance could afford the included order card. The Code’s Alert, Aware, Involved was at the top of my list at the time. This ended up being their only full-length, so it made sense that most of their set pulled from that.

At this point in the night, there was a dramatic shift in the crowd as all the 30+ folks who had been lurking in the back, lumbered out of pit retirement one last time. As an occasional member of that demographic, I was impressed with the consistency I had to fight off both the band and the crowd as they joined together in celebrating how a well written album can still hold its own after seventeen years. Clearly I wasn’t the only one excited about the return of The Code, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed they can keep this momentum going and it won’t be thirteen years before I get another chance to catch them.

What I love about the downstairs of SubT is everything. It’s a fantastic little room that never feels over crowded even when sold out, like this show was. The band is right on the floor with the fans. And, no matter how rowdy I’ve seen it, folks always seem to maintain a high level of respect for each other and the bands’ space. Plus, there is a nook where Kendra, Kevin, and I like to stake out where we’re always able to see the show, but without being part of the show. We three were safely nestled in as we prepared to watch We are the Union for the first time together.

Kendra and I were discussing the band recently and decided the best way to describe We Are the Union‘s sound is if Big D and the Kids Table sang about their feelings or picture the Wonder Years as a Ska band. They were out celebrating their latest release, Self Care. I don’t recall ever getting choked up over Ska songs before, but this album managed it. As the many members that are often in Ska bands took to the stage, the demographic at the front of the venue shifted once again. Those who could manage more than short bursts of enthusiastic motion without risking injury were getting ready to get down.

The crowd erupted as soon as things were under way. Despite my lack of familiarity with We Are the Union’s material, it was hard not to get sucked in. I am a huge sucker for most Ska that isn’t Sublime and this was the perfect level of not-Sublime for me. Any band that encourages people to look out for their mental health while promoting a safe environment in which to do so gets additional points in my book.

By the end of the night, I had gotten everything I had hoped to from the show. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t a lot of good reasons to leave the house. When bands and friends can come together in the way and quality they did with this show, that feeling definitely dies down a little. I tried my best to sing back loud enough to lose my voice, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Don’t get me wrong, I still managed to hurt my shoulder and my neck in three places for absolutely no reason in the process. So, I guess this is growing up.

Check out the below photos from the night and please try to take care of your mental health and know that we love you:

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